The roots of AGA’s success emerged at the end of the 19th century, a time when innovations from the previous decades were finding commercial applications, and new inventions continued to surface, bringing about a dynamic and optimistic period.
It was in this environment that advances in acetylene gas lighting emerged in Sweden, laying the groundwork for what would become the industrial gas company AGA. Around the same time in Germany, another company (today known as the Linde Group and which includes AGA) found success developing and marketing gas-based refrigeration systems and gas liquefication and separation systems.
Not only were AGA and Linde both built on innovative gas applications, but they also share another important legacy: being founded and led by visionary scientists and inventors, each of whom shaped their respective companies into world-leading hubs for innovation.
Born in Sweden in 1869, Gustaf Dalén first studied dairy farming, but later switched to engineering on the advice of inventor and industrialist Gustaf de Laval, who recognized the young Dalén’s talents. By the time he joined the newly incorporated AGA (Aktiebolaget Gasaccumulator) in 1904, he was already a respected engineer and inventor.
As AGA’s first chief engineer, Dalén helped develop several key inventions including the flashing beacon, the sun-valve, and the Dalén mixer that together revolutionized lighthouse technology and led to the company’s early success. He took over as president of AGA in 1909.
In 1912, Dalén was left blind following an explosion that occurred while he was testing safety devices on acetylene cylinders. Later that year he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics "for his invention of automatic regulators for use in conjunction with gas accumulators for illuminating lighthouses and buoys".
Over the course of his life, Dalén accumulated more than 100 patents, and despite the loss of his sight he continued to lead AGA until his death in 1937.
Carl von Linde
Born in Bavaria in 1842, Carl von Linde studied engineering in Zurich and began his career in Munich as a professor at the newly established Technical University of Munich where he began researching refrigeration techniques.
He published his findings about an “improved ice and refrigeration machine” in 1870 and 1871, sparking interest among brewers in search of reliable year-round refrigeration. After testing a prototype with a nearby brewer in 1873, von Linde developed an improved compressor using ammonia.
The success of the new design resulted in orders from brewers across Europe, prompting von Linde to abandon his professorship and found the Gesellschaft für Lindes Eismaschinen Aktiengesellschaft ("Linde's Ice Machine Company") in 1879.
During the 1890s, von Linde continued his research, focusing on air liquification and separation, and in 1897 was appointed to the Order of Merit of the Bavarian Crown.
Starting in 1910, von Linde began to withdraw from his company’s daily operations, handing over more responsibilities to his sons, although he continued in an advisory role until his death in 1934.
A culture of innovation
Thanks to Dalén’s inventions, AGA revolutionized the way lighthouses were produced and operated, putting them at the core of AGA’s business until the 1980s. But lighthouses are far from the only industry reshaped by AGA’s culture of innovation.
AGA helped introduce acetylene welding to Sweden, going on to pioneer new techniques like orbital welding and launching a welding school in 1916. Today, AGA continues to play a major role in the development of welding and cutting industrial techniques.
Meanwhile in Germany, the sons of Carl von Linde, together with their brother-in-law built in 1912 a two-column apparatus that could produce oxygen and nitrogen at the same time. Additional advancements at Linde included developing a process and device for the production of oxygen of any purity, as well as a process for the separation of air or other gas mixtures.
AGA was also an early innovator in audio and broadcast technologies, experimenting with radio transmissions from aircraft as early as 1915. In 1927, AGA developed the first radio receive in Europe with a built-in speaker. By the 1940s, AGA was a leading developer within mobile radio technology and in 1952 offered a color television.
AGA also brought about several important advancements in the medical field, launching a combined anesthetic apparatus and respirator in 1934, and building Europe’s first heart-lung machine in 1952-1954.
Linde, meanwhile, found its footing after World War II, returning to profit in 1946. While parts of the refrigeration business struggled at times, Linde expanded into other areas, eventually developing the “hydrocar” in 1958, which utilized a pedal-operated hydraulic drive system now common in industrial vehicles like forklifts and construction equipment.
After additional forays into optics, AGA shifted focus back to gases in the 1970s, expanding into cryogenics and freezing and eventually selling off its “high-tech” operations in the early 1980s.
In contrast, Linde adopted a strategy of expansion in the early 1970s, acquiring several refrigeration companies before also expanding into Eastern Europe after the end of the Cold War.
In 1999, Linde acquired AGA in what the German company calls “the most important entrepreneurial decision in the second half of the 20th century”. In 2006, Linde also acquired UK-based BOC Group, leading to the creation of what is today known as the Linde Group.
Today the spirit of innovation at AGA and the Linde Group lives on in our approach to customer relations and our unwavering desire to work with our customers to find creative solutions to their business challenges.